Sunday, September 13, 2009

Institutional Racism and Australia’s Media Today

By Jack Weingart

While the popular belief in Australia may be that racism is not an issue, it’s hard to ignore the fact that a majority of newscasters are white and that a bulk of television advertisements do not portray people of color. It’s time consumers take a closer look at the media’s almost invisible social and political consequences—primarily, the upholding of institutional racism towards racial minorities.

Two recent studies suggest that the media is actually contributing to the maintenance of racism in Australian society. A study of 195 hours of product advertisements in the Sydney media, for instance, found that only 127 ads out of 2,771 included any minority characters, while only one nine-second image of Aboriginal people appeared a mere three times (Collins 2000:34). The overpowering message in this example is that Australia is a monocultural society. “Their racism and ethnocentrism lay in the exclusion of non-Anglo-populations, and not in the manner of their inclusion...the overwhelming majority of ads representing Australia exclude anyone of non-Anglo descent” (Collins 2000:34). An unbalanced representation such as this example not only affects the minds of white people but also the underrepresented, who undoubtedly begin to see themselves as ‘the other.’

An interesting aspect about the media is that a majority of it seems to ignore race and see racism as not an issue today. Racism has become both invisible and normative to viewers; no one thinks to question a nearly all white cast on TV (case in point, Seven’s Home and Away). Moreover, today’s “discourses which vilify racism are more than amply countered by the many other discourses through which racism is made invisible, normative, and even virtuous” (Downing 2005:1). The media is responsible for both blatant and inferential forms of racism. Much of today’s society, however, lives in a “color-blind” era, where racism conveniently is nonexistent (2009:109). Much of what people learn and perceive of today’s world is through the media they consume, and if race and racism are ignored, then it is reasonable to believe that racism is no longer an issue (Korgen and White 2009:109-110).

As renowned sociologist Stuart Hall explains, the media is both a producer and transformer of ideologies, or “those images, concepts and premises which provide the frameworks through which we represent, interpret, understand, and ‘make sense’ of some aspect of social existence” (Hall 2000:271). The media’s perpetuation of racist ideologies directly highlights the problem of ideology. Consumers unknowingly digest the racist ideologies produced by the media due to its alibility to naturalise racial disparities.

In failing to fairly cover both race and racism, the media does not reflect the dynamic and complex nature of race. Race is a social construction, and one that is continuously constructed by today’s media. The media is often called the fourth institution, meaning that it both acts and serves as an institution on behalf of the people. Those behind the media construct race hegemonically, allowing their ideologies to be the ruling ones viewed and processed by viewers. Thus, the inequality racial minority’s face in the media is a perfect example of modern-day institutional racism.

Works Cited

Collins, Jock, et al. Kebabs, Kids, Cops and Crime: Youth, Ethnicity and Crime. Annandale,NSW: Pluto Press, 2000.

Downing, John, and Charles Husband. Representing ‘Race:’ Racisms, Ethnicities and Media. London: Sage Publications, 2005

Hall, Stuart. “Racist Ideologies and the Media.” Media Studies: A Reader. Eds. P. Marris and S. Thornham. Second Edition. New York: New York University Press, 2000. 271-282.

Korgen, Kathleen Odell, and Jonathon M. White. The Engaged Sociologist: Connecting the Classroom to the Community. Second Edition. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press, 2009.

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